rainbows and big water

We spent Thursday and Friday in absolute awe of the volume of water running over the massive cliffs and waterways that make up Iguazu Falls. It is a spectacular exhibition of uncontained beauty and power, at the very northern tip of Argentina on the border with Brazil. Iguazu (pronounced ee-gua-su) comes from the Guarani people who originally inhabited the area: i=water, guaza=big; they weren’t exaggerating, this is indeed big water.

The first European to see and describe this magnificent series of falls was Spanish explorer Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca in 1542. As more Europeans moved into the area, the Jesuits set up missions and reportedly worked to understand and “protect” the Indigenous population, although their goal was to Christianize them and turn them into good workers (obviously not an unproblematic relationship). But when the Jesuits were kicked out of the territory by the Spanish Crown in 1767, the native populations were then subject to the same abuse and exploitation that other native groups faced throughout the Americas, including slave-traders (for more about this, see the movie “The Mission” with Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons, with one very dramatic scene filmed here at the falls). It wasn’t until 1890, well after Argentina gained independence from Spain, that tourists started coming into the area to see the falls. At one time it was possible to get on a boat at the top of the falls, but when a boatload of tourists went over the falls sometime in the 1930s that practice was brought to an abrupt halt.

A series of walkways to the top and bottom of the falls was constructed in 1948, and then reconstructed in the 1990s after the area was declared a UNESCO world natural heritage site and the park was “re-opened” with a short railway, numerous walkways to the top and bottom of the various falls, boat launches, and, wisely well away from the falls themselves, concession stands and souvenir shops. The falls are made up of about 275 distinct waterfalls, along a 2700-metre long series of cliffs arranged mostly in a semi-circle, with drops ranging from a few metres to over 80 metres (Devil’s Throat, sort of on its own around the corner from the rest, forms the border between Argentina and Brazil). Everytime we turned a corner, more waterfalls and rainbows!

There were many busloads of tourists in the park on the first day we were there, but the park is so big we didn’t really notice them. On the second day there were far fewer people and we had some trails and viewpoints to ourselves – and could hear and see more birds; along one stretch of quite trail we spotted monkeys swinging from tree to tree. We had plenty of warmth and sunny skies both days.

Admission to the park, about $30 for the first day, half price if you return the next day which we did, includes access to all the trails and viewpoints, the train, and a boat ride across to Isle San Martin for a great view of the falls. Visitors can also purchase tickets for additional adventures, so we opted for the aventura nautical – a zodiac boat ride into the canyon below La Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), and into the water cascading down Salto San Martin (San Martin Falls). This was a great highlight for us – getting completely drenched by the tonnes of water pouring on our heads as the boat quickly shot into and back out of the rapidly falling water. It was so much water we could hardly breathe for a moment, but pure joy just the same, an experience we won’t soon forget. The video below shows another group of tourists going into the falls the way we did.

We took the boat ride to Isla San Martin on our second day. After landing on a small sandy beach we climbed 175 steps to the peak in order to get a new view of the waterfalls on either side — and more rainbows everywhere we looked.

In addition to the monkeys, we saw lots of coatis, armadillos, and birds, including the pretty purple-blue velvet Urraca Comun, appropriately known in English as the Plush-Crested Jay, pictured below.

We had the day off today in Puerto Iguazu, and walked for about an hour to arrive at the junction of two rivers and three countries: the point wher the Iguazi River flows into the Parana River and the meeting of three borders: Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Later we relaxed poolside at our hostel and then went out for our last dinner in Argentina. Tomorrow we hop a bus into Paraguay for four days in Asuncion, and then we catch a flight to Cusco via Lima. Machu-Picchu and the Sacred Valley await!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6S4TVWa9cOs&feature=youtube_gdata

shake, rattle and roll

Mother’s Day post!

First off we would like to wish all you Mothers joy, laughter and love today…. for those of you non-Mothers we wish for you much happiness as well.

We are counting down the days here in Buenos Aires. It is gorgeous outside again today…. we hear weather in BC is great. This is a good thing for Mother’s Day.

Buenos Aires has smart weather… when it does rain, it is usually at night. The other night, around 3am, I awoke to the sound of much rain pounding our balcony… then some low growling thunder. I opened the curtains to see what kind of storm was coming our way… it arrived rather suddenly… the clouds were really low, so when the lightning came, it illuminated the whole sky… no lightning bolts, it was like Mother Nature had turned the lights on.

I was counting the seconds between lightning and thunder, and knew the storm was getting nearer, as the distance/time between lightning and thunder was getting shorter with each strike. The thunder usually had a rumbling sound… lasting often for about 10 seconds.  At one point, I thought I  heard a plane taking off (we can see the planes in the air after takeoff – in the distance) and then there was a strike of lightning illuminating the sky, at once the thunder clapped and rolled and I was sure the lightning had struck the plane and blew it up, that is how loud the thunder was. Thankfully, no plane blew up, as there was no sounds of fire trucks (or the bomberos as they are called here) in the distance.

The storm lasted for about an hour and I finally fell back to sleep with thunder rolling in the distance.

When we awoke the sky was clear so we decided this was the day we would head to Tigre, a resort town about 30 kms north of the city. We took the Subte to the train station, purchased our tickets … 1.35 pesos or about 25 cents Canadian… amazing eh! The ride took about an hour and ten minutes… being a commuter train, it stopped every ten minutes or so. It was interesting to see the shanty town right outside the train station and then through the suburbs, large detached homes and even some grass.

When we arrived in Tigre we started walking on its sea wall – really a river canal wall. It was beautiful and well kept. The city’s name come from the tigers or jaguars that were hunted there.  We also discovered that Tigre was originally established as a place where the wealthy could come and relax in the very warm summers, leaving Buenos Aires in their 1912 Fiats. As we walked along observing some of the huge houses that now were turned into rowing clubs, we were astonished at the amount of money that was put into the construction of these very elaborate homes.

We went to the Museo de Arte Tigre that was about half way round the river side walk… as you will see in the pictures below, it was massive. It turns out it was the social club for the very wealthy. The Tigre Club, completed in 1912, was built next to the Tigre Hotel (built in 1890 and demolished in 1940).  The elegant and luxurious building has two floors with large curves windows on all sides. The staircases are made of marble and there are Venetian mirrors and exquisite, massive chandeliers. It has a ballroom on the upper floor with curved ceilings, perhaps 25 feet high. Parquet flooring everywhere on the upper floor.

It was obviously a lovely place for the rich and famous to spend their time.  A casino operated there until 1933 when a law passed prohibiting casinos from being too close to Buenos Aires so the equipment was moved to the coast at Mar del Plata. With the closing of the casino and the Great Depression, the numbers of people going to Tigre and the Tigre Club decreased.  When the Tigre Hotel was demolished in 1940, the Tigre Club remained open as a restaurant with regular shows, but never recovered its former glory.

The Tigre Club became a National Monument in 1979 and after extensive restoration, became the Museo de Arte Tigre in 2006.

After our visit to the Museo, we walked through some of the nearby streets, looking at the impressive houses.  You could tell that the middle and upper class folks have made their way back to Tigre. Rowing is a major focus. We saw quite of few people on the river training for the next regatta. It looked like way too much effort to me. The small skiffs shared the canal with barges bringing logs into town to be processed.

We had dinner at this lovely little restaurant. Don had the biggest and best hamburguesa yet! I had the ojo de bife…a rib eye beef steak with pure… mashed potatoes. Though we have noticed people overcook all their meat here, I asked for it to be medio (medium) and lo and behold they did it. Yeah! It was so much meat though; we took leftoverst home for lunch the next day.

Back on to the train we went… again for 1.35 pesos (I thought maybe the first ticket seller made a mistake and charged us too little, thankfully not). The train station at the end of the line back in Buenos Aires also holds the end of the green line Subte. We really noticed that night the difference in the smooth ride of the train and the crazy ride in the Subte, which barrels through narrow tunnels at break neck speed, tossing everyone around when it had to take corners (still at that speed), hence the title today: shake, rattle and roll.

Museo del Arte Tigre, formerly a social club and casino for the wealthy

Museo del Arte Tigre, formerly a social club and casino for the wealthy

exploring the big city

Buenos Aires has a lot to offer, and we are quite enjoying our time here. It’s a big city (3 million people within city limits, another 10 million around the edges), but despite the extensive subway and train system, it’s not that easy to get around. The routes all radiate out from downtown, more or less east to west with no north-south connectors, so huge areas of town are not easy to reach except perhaps by bus, which we haven’t figured out because there is no route map or schedule posted anywhere and the tour books advise against even trying to figure it out. This means we end up doing a lot of walking. We’re wearing out our shoes and our feet in the process, but we’re wandering around a new neighbourhood almost every day and continue to be delighted by what we find. We like this city, although there are piles of garbage, abandoned car wrecks, dog poop, and broken sidewalks everywhere, and some days the air pollution is so bad you can taste it. Yuck!

El Caminita, a small area in the La Boca neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, is this city’s Gastown or Pike Place Market. It’s a small area that links visitors to city history through old buildings, historic markers, and cultural activities, but also packed with souvenir shops, cafes, and bars. Rather than a steam clock or flying fish, the photo opportunity here, aside from the brightly painted old buildings themselves, are tango dancers practicing their art in classic tango garb and posing with tourists for donations.

Local artists have adorned the streets with murals and an alley that cuts across the four-square-block mini-district features a series of small sculptures and other installations. We popped into a century-old café-bar and ordered drinks and some pastries – the pastries came but we had to seek out the server three times before he finally brought us our cervezas. Thusly refreshed we began the long walk back to the nearest section of town served by the subway, stopping for dinner at a small English-pub in San Telmo with British and Thai food on the menu. We’re sure everyone reading this has heard something about the appetite for meat here in Argentina – and maybe we’re not hanging out in the finest restaurants in town, but they overcook it terribly and there is little effort to enhance it with sauces or side dishes. So the Gibraltor is a rare oasis with a well-timed happy hour and good food at reasonable prices.

We do have a kitchen in our apartment, and frequent a number of small panaderias and verdurerias for fresh-baked empanadas and vegetables, and a larger grocery store for everything else. At the big store, if you want to buy vegetables, you have to take them to a weighing counter, usually involving a line-up. Everything has to be in a separate plastic bag that is sealed with the price sticker – they won’t simply attach the sticker to a single item like an onion – it has to be in a bag of its own. Clearly an environmentally-unfriendly practice, so we don’t buy fruit and vegetables at the big store anymore.

For a change of pace, and another set of stamps in our passport, we took the fast ferry across the Rio de la Plata to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. The old part of town is a UNESCO world heritage site, with buildings and bits of ancient stone walls and foundations dating back to the mid-1600s when the area was under Portuguese control. The town and fortification changed hands eight times over about 200 years as Portugal and Spain fought over control of territory and trade routes. The townsite features seven dusty mini-museums, although three of them were closed the day we were there. That day the town was also serving as a set for a film crew that was working in the old alley ways and buildings. The highlight of the day was sitting on the patio of the Buddha Bar, with a clear view across the river as the sun set – the first sunset over water we’ve seen in a month and it was quite spectacular (the photos below hopefully do it justice).

For another dramatic change of pace we put a lot of effort into buying advance tickets (not easy for gringos!), and then attending, our first Latin American futbol game. The home team was River Plate and the visiting team was Gimnasia from Jujay province. Buying the tickets a day early, we kept getiting directed to different stadium entrances until finally someone pointed us to a security guard, sleeping in his chair, behind which was an almost invisible ticket counter. On game day we had to pass through several security gates and pat-downs around the outside of the stadium, and once inside we realized we were in a section that was fenced in, with rows of barbed wire at the top. The balcony level above us was also fenced in, but reserved for supporters of the visiting team. We had been advised to arrive 90 minutes early to get good seats in our section, and by the time the game was about to get underway it looked like most of the 70,000 seats and standing areas were quite full. Just before the game started a large drum band arrived in the stands across the field from us, and they kept the drumming going the whole time we were there.

It was fascinating to watch the entire crowd sing all the team songs with great clarity and intense passion throughout the game, interrupted only to curse officials or Gimnesia players when a call went against River Plate or should have been called against Gimnasia. Even the children sitting near us sang the songs and swore on cue! Unexpectedly low cloud moved in and the temperature dropped dramatically halfway through the game and we were so cold we left before the game finished, but happy to be out before the masses in order to get home directly and quickly (River Plate went on to win the game 1-0.).

More neighbourhoods to explore, stay tuned!

four day long weekend

Today is the second day of a four-day long weekend that ends on May 1, International Workers’ Day (also known as May Day). We feel right at home because like long weekends in Vancouver, it’s raining!

Fortunately for us it’s been mostly clear and sunny for the past week, although a “polar front” hit town a few days ago, pushing the temp down to 12-15 degrees C. Perfect weather for walking around many of the 47 neighbourhoods that make up Buenos Aires, a federal district like Washington and Mexico City. We’ve managed to take a stroll or follow guidebook walking tours through about a dozen of them, and have visited numerous historic buildings, plazas, and art galleries, enjoyed chop (draft beer) at many outdoor cafes while watching tango dancers, and oh yes, done our best to avoid getting hit by a car!

That last bit needs an explanation. We’re thinking of coming up with a “Ten Best and Ten Worst Experiences of Travel” – and the car and taxi drivers of Buenos Aires have already secured the number one position on the “Ten Worst” list. Throughout our travels we have observed cars and buses going too fast, running red lights, and generally driving recklessly by any standard. But here in Buenos Aires, the drivers not only drive fast and furious, but actually aim for pedestrians foolishly attempting to cross streets in marked crosswalks with walk signals. Even if the street is 8 or 12 lanes wide, as is the case all over the city, drivers will always want the lane a pedestrian is in front of, and they don’t slow down for families, senior citizens, or people with canes or crutches. No wonder the people here seem fitter than in North America, they have to do several life-threatening 50-yard dashes every day to and from work and shopping. That gets the heart pumping and calories burning!

On the positive side, our favourite outdoor space is Plaza Dorrego in the San Telmo neighbourhood, formerly a working-class area that claims to be the birthplace of the tango. The plaza is surounded by cafes and antique stores. For a real sense of history, sipping a café con leche at Café Tortoni in the Centro neighbourhood can’t be beat. This is the oldest traditional café in the city, dating back to 1858. The very high ceiling features stained glass and the wide open layout gives everyone a good view of the old wood fixtures and chairs, artifacts, framed photos, and paintings spanning the 150+ year history of the café and surrounding area – just a few blocks from Casa Rosada – the main government building at the east end of Avenida de Mayo. It is clearly a favourite with tourists and locals alike. We also took the “A-Line” to the end of the line and back – this is the subway line built under the city in 1913, the first in South America, and still running the original wood-construction cars on rails.

Other walks took us to the mansions originally built by “captains of industry” in the early 20th century but sold or lost during the 1929 stock market crash – many then purchased by foreign governments to serve as embassies. We happened across the Canadian embassy, down a side street next to a television studio, in a plain building of no particular noteworthiness – unlike the French embassy, in a magnificent old mansion that the French refused to abandon years ago when city officials hoped to demolish it in order to widen the street behind it.

Our last stop was the Cementerio de la Recoleta, a mausoleum-packed cemetery serving city elites since 1822. We wandered through rows and rows of the extravagantly adorned tombs of families headed by generals, presidents, the captains of industry mentioned earlier, and Argentine icon Evita Peron. Most of the tombs were in good condition, obviously still visited by family members, but more than a few showed signs of being vandalized, broken into, or have simply deteriorated over time. At one ancient mausoleum with the door long gone, we could see wood boxes of remains stacked along one side, bones visible through cracks in the old crates.

One of the things that has intrigued us about the city is trash pick-up, and what happens to apparently abandoned cars. Residents and businesses simply pile trash – regular garbage, packing materials, broken furniture, construction waste, and everything else you can think of, in random piles on street corners and sometimes on the street itself. Piles seem to accumulate for several days before being picked up – although now that we have some regular walking routes to and from the subway, we have noticed some piles have never been cleared. And you don’t have to walk far before seeing an abandoned car – there seems to be at least one every block. Some have obviously been in a serious crash and just pushed to the side, some have become makeshift garbage dumps, the rest have been stripped to the bone, torched, or decorated or covered in graffiti.

we love sandals

We arrived in glorious Buenos Aires on Tuesday and are basking in the sun….each day it has been up to about 25 degrees. Though our adventure in Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia and Cape Horn was incredible, taking off four layers of clothing and now living in sandals is like being in heaven.

The studio apartment we are renting for a month is at the edge of the Palermo barrio (neighbourhood). It is quite spacious with a kitchen and even has a bathtub, yeah!

As per our MO that first night, we dropped off our suitcases, changed into sandals and headed out to see what the neighbourhood was like. This was around 8pm and we were hungry. Some of the restaurants were open (people here start eating around 9pm and if they go to a club they start arriving at 11:30pm… much too late for me) and I had a “pollo supremo” discovering that when we see these words in a menu, it really means chicken that is flattened and breaded. Not the worst thing in the world, but I won’t order it again.

True to form, the next day we walked around the area for a total of 6 hours. During our walk, we visited the Museo Evita, situated in the house Eva, as she was also known, lived while married to Juan Peron until her death at the age of 33.  Some of you will remember the musical “Evita” or the film of the same name (we haven’t seen it, but I do remember Madonna was the star … not critically acclaimed as I recall).

Eva met General Juan Peron at a charity benefit for victims of an earthquake in San Juan, Argentina, that killed around 10,000 people and left half the San Juan population homeless.  Eva and Juan married the next year, 1945 and Juan was elected President of Argentina in 1946. Over the next six years, Eva became a powerful figure within the pro-Peronist trade unions,  she ran the Ministries of Labour and Health, founded the Eva Peron Foundation, championed women’s suffrage in Argentina and then founded and led the nation’s first large scale political party for women, the Female Peronist Party. She was an extremely vibrant person and had strongly held views.

Inn 1951 she announced her candidacy for the Vice Presidency of Argentina…. with much support from the Peronist political base, low income folks and the working class of Argentina who were referred to as descamisados (shirtless ones). I saw some fine shirtless ones in our walk yesterday in the ecological reserve…but that is another story. Back to Eva… unfortunately, the military and the bourgeoisie were much against her… because of that and her failing health she withdrew her candidacy.

Shortly before her death in 1952, from cancer at the age of 33, she was given the title “Spiritual Leader of the Nation” by the Argentine Congress. Eva enthusiastically supported her husband’s regime even while she was dying and was given a state funeral upon her death (state funerals were generally reserved for heads of state).

Eva has become part of the international popular culture and some claim that Evita has never left the collective consciousness of the Argentine people.  Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, the first female elected President of Argentina and currently in office,  claims women of her generation owe a debt to Eva for “her example of passion and combativeness” … a woman after my own heart.

We also visited the Museo Penitenciario, we happened upon it while looking for the Museo de Arte Moderno. We do seem to be drawn to the carcels (jails) of the different countries we have been in.

Yesterday, we started Don’s training for the 5km run he will be doing on behalf of Amnesty International Canada in late June. We took the Subte (subway) and went to find the ecological park I mentioned earlier. We had to walk about 1.5 kms from the Subte to the entrance to the park and then started walking… there are numerous trails with the longest being the 8km walk.  This is where we saw many descamisados (shirtless ones), some finer than others (wink wink, nudge nudge). We were there for about an hour and a half, walking different trails and getting bit by little black flies (when we killed them on our arms, there was lots of blood … don’t know if it was ours or someone else’s).

At the end of the walk, we decided it might be better to find a training area closer to our apartment, so the search is on for the perfect area for this wonderful endeavour.  I am going to shamelessly plug Don’s run for him… it is a fundraiser for Amnesty. This will be Don’s third run for Amnesty and this year he will be running wherever we are on June 24th.  I was the first one to pledge ($143.45… don’t ask why that number) and I would love it if you would consider pledging. Here is the link ….

http://my.e2rm.com/personalPage.aspx?SID=3276676&langPref=en-CA

Thanks so much and sending much happiness to you all!

Deborah

Costanera Sur - ecological reserve

Costanera Sur - ecological reserve in Buenos Aires

Museo Evita, Buenos Aires

Museo Evita, Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires - San Telmo area

Buenos Aires - San Telmo area

el fin del mundo

It is about 2 degrees Celsius outside this morning in Ushuaia, Argentina. The sky is mostly clear, and we can see the snow-covered mountains stretched along the north side of town, and out over the Beagle Channel which defines the south edge of this, the southern-most city in the world. There are a few military bases further south and of course numerous research stations in Antarctica, but this is the furthest south ordinary people can work and play. In contrast to Punta Arenas, which was muddy and dusty, mostly plain, and not that interested in tourists, Ushuaia feels like a Banff or Jasper in a good way: compact with a main street or two hosting a variety of restaurants, tourist services, and outdoor sports stores, very clean, and the museums are actually open. This city’s advantage may be that it gets visitors through summer and fall who are exploring Patagonia or heading for Antarctica, and in the winter it is the base for people skiing on the nearby hills on the Argentine half of Tierra de Fuego.

***

We arrived here yesterday after five days/four nights on board the MV Stella Australis, a relatively small “expedition” cruise ship (capacity 210 but with 166 aboard for this last eastward trip of the season) that plies the channels between Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, with multiple stops for passenger exploration of forest life, local history, and glacier activity. On board we were treated to several mini-lectures on these and other subjects, as well as documentary films. When we disembarked by Zodiacs (rubber boats), we were taken on guided tours through the forest, we hiked to amazing viewpoints up in the mountains, and got very close to several massive glaciers. We generally walked and hiked with the same group of fellow English-speaking travellers, although once we lost track of them and instead joined a group of English-speaking tourists from India who were quite enjoying the trip as well. At the end of each excursion, as we all gathered at the landing point, the crew had hot chocolate, and whiskey on the rocks ready for us!

We expected the highlight for us would be reaching Cape Horn and climbing the 160-step staircase to the top of the hill where the very-famous seven metre tall Cape Horn Memorial sculpture is located – an albatross in flight cut out of several layers of thick steel, with an extra giant eye to one side that guides our own eyes out to the vast Drake Channel that separates South America from Antarctica – 1000 km to the south. Indeed, it was the highlight – to stand at the very tip of South America was breath-taking, awe-inspiring, and a truly remarkable experience.

Along the way we also saw southern dolphins and South American seals, sea lions, and one big elephant seal lazily sleeping in the sun (and clearly not interested in lifting his head so tourists could see more than a big lump of blubber in the grass!), numerous types of birds, plants, and trees. We also had the pleasure to sit for each meal with friendly travellers from Australia, New Zealand, France, Switzerland, and one other fellow Canadian (originally from Russia), and to chat with others on hikes or back at the aptly-named Sky Lounge. With conversation, wine, and whiskey flowing freely, we rarely returned to our cabin before midnight. Our cabin was larger than we expected, complete with a floor-to-ceiling window to watch the scenery go by, the food was very good and plentiful, and the serving staff and tour guides were very helpful and professional. It was an outstanding trip that we highly recommend.

***

So here we are in Ushuaia (pronounced oo-shwhy-ah). Yesterday we stopped in at the “Museum of the End of the World”, located in a former bank, which offers a brief introduction to the former and current people living in the region, the role of explorers and the military in opening up the area to European exploitation and settlement, and the construction of the nearby prison. It also features the largest collection of stuffed birds in Patagonia, which helped us identify the ones we’ve seen over the past week.

At the edge of town is the second museum we visited, the former prison itself, in operation from about 1911 to 1947. It was built to house hard-core convicts and political prisoners – but constructed here to help establish an Argentine presence in the area (an instant “settlement” that the prisoners were forced to help build the infrastructure for, including parts of the prison itself). It is a huge complex, with 380 cells designed to hold over 700 prisoners. Some of the wings have been left as they were when the prison was closed, the rest of the cells hold mini-galleries highlighting the maritime history of the area, partially through an extensive series of amazing model boats all made to the same scale by one man. The displays describe the impact of missionaries, gold-seekers, and farmers had on the native population (now essentially extinct), the various waves of immigration from Croatia and Italy in particular, and aspects of daily life over the past century. If we had one complaint it is that there is far too much text – it was like trying to read a dense book one page at a time – they have everything they know about everything up on the walls, it would take days to read it all. We decided to pick and choose a few descriptions to read and not feel guilty about skipping the rest!

***

It was fascinating to see how Argentina views local historic figure Julio Popper. In Chile, he is characterized as a key organizer in the hunting and killing of Selk’nam people on behalf of sheep farmers who were operating in Selk’nam territory on Tierra del Fuego and complaining that the Selk’nam were killing their sheep. A photograph of Popper and several others pointing rifles into the distance with a Selk’nam body at their feet is used to illustrate this description. It’s a completely different story here – he is revered as an explorer and inventor, as a business tycoon who minted his own currency and printed his own postage stamps, and as a military leader who bravely held off attempts by Chilean forces to move into parts of Tierra del Fuego that Argentina had laid claim to. Under a copy of the very same photo the caption suggests the men were simply “posing” during an “encounter” with native people, and that yes, a few were killed or injured on both sides. Certainly no suggestion that he was engaged in what we would easily now describe as genocide.

***

We are aware that in some parts of Central and South America, Canadians are disliked because Canadian mining companies have contributed to contamination of drinking water supplies and the destruction of fisheries and forests. What we were unprepared for is what we’re associated with here in Patagonia – as the source of the region’s number one pest, the Canadian beaver (el castor canadiense). It seems that back in the days when Europeans were sending boatloads of beaver pelts from Canada to Europe to be made into hats, someone in Patagonia had the bright idea that they could raise beavers and also profitably sell the pelts to European hat-makers. What they didn’t realize was that the beaver’s home diet of maple trees was what made their fur so long and shiny. Gnawing on the skinny birch trees here did not result in the same quality of fur, and so eventually the ragged and unwanted beavers were released into the wild. Big mistake!

The beavers took their revenge by doing what they naturally do, building dams and causing damage to huge areas of forest – and they proliferated because they have no natural predators here. Our objection is that they are repeatedly referred to as Canadian beavers. We argued that they had been here for many generations and should now be referred to as South American, or Patagonian beavers. We felt it was time to stop blaming Canada for an historic mistake made by locals!